WHILE, for most of the year, radio offers companionship and a reassuring background noise, during the Christmas season it can perform a quite different function: an escape from the hubbub, a still small voice. And there was no better voice than Aidan Hart, the artist and former Greek Orthodox monk who guided us through The Creation of an Icon (Radio 4, 17-21 December).
As the rest of us negotiated the exasperating mundanities of Christmas preparation, Hart was mixing pigments, transcribing haloes, and laying gold leaf, his commentary delivered with the quiet authority that would make him the perfect satnav.
It is not the most promising concept for radio — a five-part series describing the painting of an icon of the annunciation — and the short video clip online suggests that this would have made a glorious television piece. But there is much to be said for closing your eyes to the baubles and glitter, and envisioning with the inner eye the glories of the annunciation.
The compulsion to produce seasonal content can result in as many misses as hits, and I will resist the temptation to lay into the well-meaning Good News Stories (Radio 4), which ran during Christmas week, in favour of another, quietly delightful offering from Radio 3: Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough’s Sunday Feature: Forests (23 December), telling us all we ever could possibly want to know about the pine tree.
Around since the dinosaurs, the pine has been there at all the great developments in civilisation. And, in California, there was an example thought to be about 5000 years old — at least until a dendrologist wanting to confirm its age cut it down to count the rings.
The best religious programme of the season was To Be A Jedi (World Service, 21 December). There was every opportunity for Will Bond to take the supercilious approach; and, as he approached the Finsbury Park studio that offered light-sabre training, one imagined a cast of unwashed internet geeks, the flowing Jedi robes barely concealing the middle-age spread. But the coach, Faisal, explained that what he taught was much the same as other martial arts, and that the Jedi philosophy pre-dated George Lucas by many centuries.
Nobody we met would deny that Jedi was a fictional religion; but, for many, its precepts are far from fictitious. The tone of the programme shifted when we met an American lady, Paris, for whom the combination of mindfulness and self-discipline suggested by Jedi helped her to restructure her emotional life.
When you heard Paris’s story — her service in the US armed forces, rape by her instructor, and the brutal disciplinary procedure that followed — any sense that this was mere Christmas frivolity disappeared. If Paris has reinvented herself as a Jedi warrior, then who’s to say she cannot wield her light sabre with pride?